Top 100 Teams
Eastern Shore League (Class D)
By Bill Weiss & Marshall Wright, Baseball Historians
|The 1937 Salisbury Indians|
Amidst the Triple-A colossi occupying the upper echelons of Minor League Baseball’s Top 100 list, one Class D club managed to slip into the top group. Playing in a small town in Maryland, this team seemingly performed the impossible in a truly singular campaign.
The town of Salisbury, Maryland, located on the Delmarva Peninsula, joined Organized Baseball as one of the founding members of the six-team Class D Eastern Shore League in 1922. The other cities were Cambridge, Crisfield and Pocomoke City, all in Maryland, Laurel, Delaware and Parksley, Virginia. All were located on the eastern side of Chesapeake Bay in an area known as the Eastern Shore. The league played a 70-game schedule and in today’s minor league structure would be considered a Short-Season league. In the first campaign, Salisbury finished last with a 27-41 record. Parksley (42-25, .627) won the pennant, then lost to Martinsburg, the Blue Ridge League champion in the first Five State Championship Series. The winner received the Ned Hanlon Baseball Cup, named for the Hall-of-Fame manager of the great old Baltimore Orioles teams. In 1923, the league expanded to eight teams, adding Dover and Milford, Delaware. Unfortunately, all the teams did not finish the season. Milford (9-19) quit July 14 rather than forfeit all its games because the team had violated the “class” man rule. Pocomoke City disbanded August 21.
The infamous “class” rule was to plague the Eastern Shore League throughout its pre-World II existence and created serious problems in many leagues in the lower minors. The Eastern Shore League rule provided that no team could have more than three “class” players. A “class” player was defined as one who had participated in 25 games, if a position player, and 15 games, if a pitcher, in a league of higher than D classification. Any game played by a team with too many “class” players on the roster, whether the extra player(s) had been in the game or not, was to be forfeited. In some other leagues the games were simply thrown out of the standings, but in the Eastern Shore, the offending team was charged with a loss and the opponent credited with a win. Individual statistics, such as wins and losses for pitchers, were not affected.
Over the next five years, Salisbury finished second or third every season. The 1923 team featured the league’s home run champion, Chick Tolson, who hit 27 in only 57 games. He went on to play five years (1926-30) with the Chicago Cubs. During this period there were several famous players who wore Eastern Shore League uniforms. In 1923, a young man called Frank King caught for the Dover Senators. He really was Hall-of-Famer Mickey Cochrane, using a pseudonym to protect his college eligibility. In 1924 a teen-ager named Jimmie Foxx played for the Easton Farmers managed by Franklin (Home Run) Baker. The same year, yet another Hall-of-Famer, Red Ruffing, pitched for Dover. The catcher for the 1925 Salisbury Indians was 42-year-old Nig Clarke who, 23 years earlier, had hit a record eight home runs in one game for Top 100 team #51, Corsicana (Texas). In 1926-27, Paul Richards, long-time major league manager and executive, played for the Crisfield Crabbers.
The 1926 season could only be described as a mess, all because of the “class” rule. With two weeks remaining in the schedule, Easton, managed by ex-New York Giants star second baseman Buck Herzog, was in first place with a 44-27 record, three games ahead of Dover. Crisfield, 28-42, had just climbed out of the cellar by taking four straight from fourth-place Salisbury. Then, on August 16, league president Harry Rew ruled that Easton had been carrying five “class” players instead of the limit of three and 34 of their wins were forfeited. That made Easton’s record 10-61, depositing them in the basement. On August 22, Parksley was found guilty of the same infraction and lost 20 victories and Crisfield lost one win. On August 30, Dover, 52-25, was first, 5-½ games ahead of Crisfield. Four days later, at the third league meeting in two weeks, 23 games won by Dover were forfeited as were 22 won by Cambridge. Their rule violations involved the same player, outfielder Roy Akins, who played for both teams during the season and had not been registered as a class man by either club. The season ended September 6 with Crisfield, the greatest beneficiary of the forfeitures, winning the championship with a revised record of 63-21, seven games in front of Salisbury.
The 1927 season was a successful one for the league with several players sold to major league clubs. The next year, however, economic hard times hit the area and attendance dropped. On July 11, 1928, the directors voted four to two to disband, ending the first incarnation of the Eastern Shore League.
In the fall of 1936, the Eastern Shore League was revived as an eight-team circuit with Cambridge, Crisfield, Dover, Easton, Pocomoke City and Salisbury, members in the 1920s, plus Centreville and Federalsburg, Maryland. Colonel J. Thomas Kibler, one of the league’s organizers and former baseball coach at Washington College in Chestertown, MD, was elected president. The league adopted a 100-game schedule, opening May 19 and closing September 6. Seven of the eight teams were major league farm clubs and Dover was affiliated with Baltimore. Salisbury, owned by Baltimore laundry operator Joe Cambria, who had close ties to Clark Griffith, had a working agreement with the Washington Senators. Jake Flowers, a 35-year-old native of Cambridge, MD and a ten-year major league infielder, was making his managerial debut with Salisbury.
The Indians got off to a flying start and on the morning of June 19 were in first place with a 21-5 record. By nightfall they were last with 0-26. Kibler had ordered all 21 victories forfeited because he ruled that Salisbury had five players with previous pro experience on the roster, one more than the league rules allowed. The disputed player, first baseman Bob Brady, who was hitting .246-0-7 in 15 games, had signed a contract with Harrisburg in the Class A New York-Penn League in 1934, but had been carried on the Suspended List before his ultimate release without playing a game, and did not play pro ball until signing with Salisbury. However, Kibler ruled that Brady was an “experienced player.” In his announcement, Kibler said he felt the club was innocent of any knowing attempt to break league rules, but that “each club is responsible for determining the status of its players.”
In his book “The Eastern Shore Baseball League,” William W. Mowbray writes: “To convince the league that he was sticking to his guns as far as the class player limit was concerned, he forfeited Salisbury’s 21 victories.” No doubt mindful of what had happened in the 1920s, “Kibler was simply living up to his promise to keep the league clean of any violations that could jeopardize the circuit…Soon thereafter, (he) absorbed the wrath of Clark Griffith, who reportedly said to Kibler, ‘You’re doing nothing more than ruining the league.’ Kibler’s reply was short and to the point. ‘Mr. Griffith, if we can’t play baseball according to the rules of the National Association, let’s break up the league.’ No further comment was made and Mr. Griffith had nothing further to say - but the situation was now news across all the baseball world.”
Cambria, however, did have something more to say. He told The Sporting News: “Before the season opened, the Salisbury club submitted a list of players to the league president. As is his duty, Kibler okayed the list and that satisfied me that the men were all right. Under league rules, Kibler must examine the rosters of all clubs; he had as much knowledge about Brady as Salisbury did. The decision to throw out 21 games has floored the Indians, but they’ll never quit…Tom Kibler has always impressed me as being level-headed, but in this case he seems to have forgotten the words ‘common sense’ are in the English language.”
Salisbury protested both the ruling itself and the decision to forfeit all 21 wins since Brady had played in only 12 of them, but National Association president Judge William G. Bramham upheld Kibler. That wasn’t the end of the legal maneuvering, however. The Sporting News reported August 1 that “Brady will appear before Commissioner Kenesaw M. Landis this week in an attempt to secure reinstatement on the Salisbury roster. On Landis’ decision will depend whether Salisbury will recover the 21 games the club was forced to forfeit…Brady and Salisbury officials contend he was illegally signed by Harrisburg and never reported to the NYP club. Brady charges he was only 18 years old when he signed the Harrisburg contract in 1934, and that it could not hold because his parents had not signed it. The contract, Brady also charges, was covered up by Harrisburg in that it was marked ‘suspended’ after he had been verbally released.” Landis held that he was “without jurisdiction” in the case. Cambria then announced that he would present Brady’s case to the National Association’s Executive Committee. However, nothing ever came of that, either.
One interesting twist to the affair was the relationship between Kibler and Flowers. Jake had been one of Kibler’s players at Washington College just after World War I and the pair had played shortstop and second base for the same semi-pro team at Milford, DE. Mowbray reports that “Flowers said later of the incident, ‘I was a little upset at first when the coach deprived my club of 21 games. Sure, I objected, and protested most vigorously, but I knew the old-timer meant just what he said.’”
On June 20, Flowers declared, “From now on, we ask no quarter and offer none. We’ll be back in the first division before Labor Day.” The Indians did far better than that. Winning 49 and losing only 10,
outscoring the opposition 425-163, they were back in first place by August 27 and went on to win the pennant and the playoff. Salisbury kept rising gradually, reaching fourth place on August 15 and was in second place a week later. On August 21, Indians hurler Leon Revolinsky pitched a 1-0 no-hitter against Dover. The Indians reached the top on August 27 when they trounced Dover 14-7 as Easton, the team they replaced, was losing to Federalsburg 3-2. Salisbury won its last ten games and finished with a 59-37 record, 3-½ games ahead of Easton. From August 1 until the end of the season, Salisbury won 31 and lost only 3! On the field, the Indians actually won 80 games and lost 16 for an .833 percentage, when credited for the games that were forfeited.
On September 1, more than 3,000 Salisbury fans turned out to honor the “wonder team,” as The Sporting News called the Indians. Washington owner Clark Griffith was the guest of honor. Engraved 17-jewel wristwatches were presented to all the players, Flowers and the three front office officials. In addition, Flowers received an automobile. Even the bus driver, the scoreboard operator and the batboy received gifts. The Indians responded by trouncing Pocomoke City 10-2.
The Indians rode the strong right arms of Joe Kohlman and George Comellas to the championship. It is doubtful if two pitchers ever had better regular season records. Kohlman won 25 and lost 1, Comellas won 22 and lost 1. Kohlman lost his first start of the year, then won 25 in a row. Comellas won 20 straight before losing 2-1 to Centreville August 20. Kohlman struck out a league-best 257 batters in 227 innings while allowing only 126 hits. He also led the league in shutouts (6) and complete games (23). Comellas fanned 204 and walked 66 in 206 innings, allowing 143 hits. On June 28, he struck out 21 Centreville batters in a nine-inning game. On September 2, Kohlman pitched a 5-0 no-hitter against Easton, giving the Indians a 1-½ game lead. He faced only 28 batters, walking two with one man being erased in a double play.
There was an open date between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs, but the Indians didn’t rest. They played an exhibition game against Trenton, Washington’s Class A farm club in the NYP League and beat their big brothers 7-2. Flowers made his first pitching appearance in 16 years and held Trenton to one run and four hits in five innings. The game was staged by the Salisbury Lions Club with one-third of the receipts going toward the purchase of an ambulance for the local fire department. In the fifth inning, the game was halted briefly when Kohlman was presented with the Baltimore News-Post’s trophy as the Eastern Shore League’s Outstanding Player.
In the opening round of the playoffs, Salisbury won two out of three from third-place Cambridge and fourth-place Centreville took two of three from second-place Easton. Comellas won the first game with a 3-0 two-hitter, striking out 12. It was his first shutout of the year. After Cambridge won the second game, Kohlman pitched an 8-0 one hitter in the series finale. He struck out 10, walked none and hit one batter. The lone hit was a drag bunt by Cambridge second baseman, future major leaguer Danny Murtaugh. (Fast forward to 2001, Phoenix, Ben Davis and Curt Schilling.) Centreville opened the best-of-five final playoff series by winning the first two games, beating both Comellas and Kohlman. Attendance at Centreville for the first game, September 12, was 2,735, more than double the population of the town (1,292), the league’s smallest community. Johnny Bassler, who was 10-10 during the regular season, then won two games on consecutive nights to tie the series. He started September 15 and went 5 1/3 innings, leaving with a 4-2 lead. Comellas finished as the Indians beat the Colts 6-3. On September 16, Bassler relieved starter Juan Montero with two outs in the third inning and shut out Centreville the rest of the way in a 7-2 victory. That set the stage for the championship game, September 18 at Centreville. Kohlman put the finishing touch on a spectacular season for the Indians and himself by pitching a 7-0 no-hitter. He faced only 29 batters, one man reaching first on a walk, the other on a error.
Salisbury skipper D’Arcy Raymond (Jake) Flowers was in his first year as a manager. He had started his pro career with his hometown Cambridge Canners in the Eastern Shore’s initial season, 1922. He was purchased by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1923 and made his major league debut in September. Flowers was farmed out to Fort Smith (Western Association) and Oakland in 1924-25. He was with the Cardinals all of 1926, then was traded to Brooklyn. He stayed with the Dodgers until June, 1931 when he was repurchased by St. Louis. His best season in the majors was 1930 when he hit .320-2-50 in 89 games for Brooklyn. He saw action in two World Series for the Cardinals in 1926 and 1931. St. Louis optioned Flowers to Minneapolis for part of 1932, then traded him back to the Dodgers in February 1933. Cincinnati purchased him before the 1934 season, but he played in only 13 games for the Reds before suffering a broken arm when he was hit by a fastball thrown by the Cardinals’ Paul Dean. That ended his major league career. Flowers batted .256 in 583 games. He played all four infield positions, but was used mostly at second base and shortstop. Jake was with Toronto, Rochester, Buffalo and Indianapolis in 1935-36 before launching his managerial career.
For his outstanding performance in 1937 Flowers was named Minor League Manager of the Year by The Sporting News, an honor rarely accorded a pilot in the lower minors. He led Salisbury to another pennant in 1938 and managed Pocomoke City in 1939. Flowers returned to the majors in 1940 as a coach for Pittsburgh and remained with the Pirates through 1945. In 1946 he was a coach for the Boston Braves. In 1947, the Braves sent Jake to their Milwaukee farm club in the American Association where he was the Brewers’ president and general manager for four years. Flowers was in uniform again in 1951-52 as a coach for Cleveland. He then scouted for the Yankees, Athletics and Orioles before retiring in 1962. He died on December 27, 1962.
Despite the overwhelming records of Kohlman and Comellas, neither ever achieved major league success. Both were promoted to Washington after the Eastern Shore playoffs, although Comellas did not get to pitch. Kohlman went 1-0, 4.15 in two starts. Joseph (Blackie) Kohlman, 24, was a native of Philadelphia and had pitched for Beckley (Middle Atlantic) in 1935 and in 4 games for Wilkes-Barre (NYP) in 1936 before joining Salisbury. He started 1938 with the Senators, going 0-0, 6.28 in 7 games in relief before being sent to Greenville (South Atlantic). Kohlman never made it back to the majors. From 1939-42 he pitched for seven teams, including Jersey City (International), Knoxville (Southern and Memphis (Southern). His record from 1938-42 was only 34-36. He did not return to pro ball after the war.
Jorge Comellas, called “George” throughout his American career, was a 23-year-old native of Havana, Cuba. He began playing professional baseball when a revolution closed the university he was attending in Havana. In 1936 he was 6-15, 5.16 for Trenton. He went back to Trenton in 1938, then pitched for Greenville (South Atlantic). Salisbury again, Springfield (Eastern), Pittsfield (Canadian-American) and Utica (Canadian-American) before being purchased by the Chicago Cubs in 1942. In 1944, Comellas went 18-14, 2.61 for Los Angeles.
In the final game of the Pacific Coast League championship playoff at Los Angeles, he was the victim in a bizarre play. The series between the Angels and San Francisco was tied at three wins each. Los Angeles was ahead 2-1 going into the fifth inning with Comellas on the mound. The first two Seals batters singled, putting runners on first and second. The next batter laid down a bunt to the right of the mound. Comellas fielded the ball cleanly, turned and threw to third base. Third baseman Stan Gray, who had started to come in when the ball was bunted, was backpedaling in an effort to get back to the base to take the throw. However, he stumbled and fell on the seat of his pants, landing on the base. As he attempted to regain his feet, the ball sailed over his head. It caromed down the third base line, eluding the left fielder, who was charging in. Before the outfielder could retrieve the ball it had rolled all the way to the wall and all three Seals had scored. Gray was charged with an error, the only Angels miscue of the game. There was no more scoring. The Angels loaded the bases in the ninth with one out, but Gray struck out and pinch-hitter Johnny Moore fouled out to end the threat. San Francisco won the game, 4-2, and the title. Comellas was the unfortunate losing pitcher.
Comellas saw his only major league action at the start of the 1945 season, going 0-2, 4.50 in one start and six relief appearances for the Cubs. He pitched for Los Angeles, Portsmouth (Piedmont), Havana and Fort Lauderdale (both Florida International) before retiring in 1951. He now resides in Miami, FL.
Three more of the 1937 Indians were promoted to Washington in September, catcher Fermin (Mike) Guerra, second baseman Jerry Lynn and shortstop Frank Trechock. Only Guerra had an extensive big league career. The little (5’9”, 155-pound) 24-year-old Havana native had started his O.B. career in 1936 with Trenton. He hit .296-14-77 for Salisbury. Mike caught one game for the Senators in 1937 then returned to the minors. He played in the Washington organization for Charlotte (Piedmont), Greenville, Springfield and Chattanooga (Southern) before returning to the majors in 1944 with the Senators. He played eight years in the American league, three with Washington, four with Philadelphia and his last season, 1951, with both Boston and Washington. In 565 games he batted .242. In 1952 he was playing manager of Washington’s Class B affiliate at Havana (Florida International).
Lynn and Trechock, both 21, ranked one-two in the Eastern Shore League in batting. Lynn led the league with .342-7-60 in 93 games, Trechock was runner-up with .338-19-84. He led the league in hits (131) and RBI and was second in home runs. Both made their major league debuts on September 19, and despite the fact that Lynn went 2-for-3 and Trechock 2-for-4, neither of them ever played another big league game. Both were sent to Charlotte (Piedmont) in 1939. Lynn played for Williamsport (Eastern) in 1940, then spent five years in the service. After the war, he played three years in the Class B Tri-State League. Trechock enjoyed a longer career, playing from 1940-51 in the American Association and International League, with two years out for service in the Army in 1944-45. He played for Minneapolis for seven years and resided there the rest of his life.
One other Indian made it to the majors, 26-year-old third baseman Ed Leip, who batted .284-1-42 in 95 games and was second in the league in stolen bases (25). In 1938 he switched positions and became the Eastern Shore’s all-star second baseman. After hitting .322-2-55 for Greenville in 1939 he was promoted to Washington in September and batted .344-0-2 in 9 games. Leip was sold to Pittsburgh and played briefly for the Pirates in 1940-41-42, batting .200-0-3 in 21 games. He also played for Syracuse (International), Albany (Eastern) and Toronto (International) before spending three years in the service. He returned to the Pirates organization after the war, managing two years in Class D, and retired after the 1950 season.
Salisbury had one more league leader, 21-year-old left-handed hitting center fielder and leadoff batter Bill (Hunk) Luzansky, who was tops in stolen bases with 28. Luzansky was only 5’6” tall, weighing 160 pounds. He hit .331-9-69 in 96 games, was second in runs (100) and hits (128), third in triples (7) and fifth in batting and doubles (25). Like Lynn, Luzansky was from Trenton, NJ. He played two more years in the Washington organization then was signed by the Pirates in 1941. He was in the service for two years and spent three seasons with Albany (Eastern) in 1944-45-46.
Six of the 12 players named to the Eastern Shore League All-Star team by the writers and managers were from Salisbury: Jerry Lynn, 2B; Frank Trechock, SS; Bill Luzansky, CF; Mike Guerra, C; Joe Kohlman, RHP; and Jake Flowers, manager. Flowers, Lynn and Trechock were unanimous selections.
The Salisbury Indians and the Eastern Shore League lasted until 1941, when the league closed for the duration of World War II, then resumed from 1946 until 1949. Over this period, the team won a regular season and playoff championship in 1938, a playoff win in 1940 and a regular season flag in 1948. In 1951, Salisbury joined the Class B Interstate League for a two-year stay. The team finished with a dismal 33-102 record in the first campaign before rebounding somewhat to 65-73 in 1952. The town was without pro ball until 1996, when a team known as the Delmarva Shorebirds replaced Albany, GA, in the Class A South Atlantic League. Playing in brand-new Perdue Stadium in Salisbury, the team set a league attendance record of 315,011. Switching affiliation from Montreal to Baltimore in 1997, the Shorebirds drew 9,000 more fans and won the championship. In 2001, Delmarva won Baseball America’s prestigious Bob Freitas Award in Class A.
Salisbury’s achievement in 1937 is believed to be unique. Their comeback from a 0-26 record to capture the pennant is a worthy enough achievement in itself. However, when you include Salisbury’s 21 missing wins into their record, the Indians’ winning percentage of .833 stands supreme, never equaled by any 20th century full-season minor league team.
|1937 Eastern Shore League standings|
|1937 Salisbury batting statistics|
|Frank Trechock||SS, 3B||96||388||93||131||84||20||2||19||15||.338|
|Edgar Leip||3B, SS||95||334||61||95||42||17||2||1||25||.284|
|Charles Quimby||OF, 1B||93||347||47||91||64||16||1||5||8||.262|
|Fermin Guerra||C, 1B||79||314||71||93||77||16||2||14||19||.296|
|1937 Salisbury pitching statistics||PITCHER||W||L||PCT||G||GS||CG||SH||SV||IP||H||BB||SO||ERA|